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Fireflies put to test no more?

A British biotechnology company will soon be lighting up Body Shop International Plc's oils and lotions, testing for microbe contamination with a device derived from genetic material found in fireflies.

Celsis International Plc, a scientific development company, based in Cambridge, England, said Body Shop joined a growing number of major consumer products companies to use its new BioKit.

Company officials say the product could save the lives of millions of fireflies used annually in research.

Fireflies contain luciferase, which causes them to light during mating season. Scientists have discovered that luciferase also can identify biological material _ like harmful bacteria _ that can contaminate products from shampoo to highly advanced pharmaceutical products.

To date, however, millions of fireflies must be harvested to produce commercial quantities of the material, so such testing is usually confined to research laboratories.

"They get most of their stuff from young Mexican kids in Southern California who go around and harvest these things," said Chris Evans, a Celsis founder.

Using recombinant genetic technology, Celsis found a way to grow the lightmaking genes in other cellular organisms and make commercial quantities.